Play4Agile 2013 Unconference

I was at Play4Agile the unconference for games and playing to help teams better perform again this year. This is full of about 80 agile coaches and others interested in using games to learn. I shared a room with @sven_kr, which was nice as I’d not seen him since last year. It was also good fun meeting up with @eegrove and @gwww plus @kurt_haeusler in Frankfurt the night before, and hanging out with @eegrove again on the way home. Lots of time to talk and discuss ideas.

As with last year, I took home a lot of ideas, and had a good time with friends old and new, as we took over the sprawling seminar centre where the event is held in the hills some 30 minutes south of Frankfurt. I should also point out that ‘games’ are not video games, but rather card and dice games, paper and scissors games, and of course games using Lego.

The pre-conference session was a mini-jam run by @adamstjohn and @markusedgar where participants developed ideas to make the conference more interesting for those who couldn’t make it, and also ways for those who didn’t go to one session able to better understand what happened in other sessions. This resulted in a number of brilliant ideas such as the tumbler blog of photos with the #p4a13 hashtag, the ‘speed dating/meeting’ sessions at lunch and dinner (sit at appointed table and ask prepared questions from the deck on the table as a way to meet new people), the podcasts, the puzzle boards for putting ‘thank you’ notes, and comments about the conference that were scattered around. This mini-jam session was a great introduction for me of the Global Service Jam the following weekend, which Markus and Adam organise, and as a host for the Aberdeen one, was very useful to see how they work their jams. Helping to make the opening credits video for their event was also fun, as was the birthday party and midnight feast for @julezwitschert.

There were lots of sessions that were very useful for me. ‘Useful’ insofar as I learn something I can take back to the classroom. In no particular order the ones that stuck with me were a session by @ralfhh re-introduced me to the Kanban Pizza Game, which I hadn’t played since Agile Lean Europe 2011 in Berlin when he was prototyping the game. Now that I’ve played it and worked through a ‘what happens next’ session on the game to see where it can go next, I’ve seen how it will balance the beer game played at the start of a course. The students had asked if they could play the beer game again, but I think the Kanban Pizza game might work better for them to see another way of managing a system.

A session by @sven_kr and @cuxdu on Lean Startup using Lego was brilliant in exemplifying what can be done with a bit of Lego and idea formation. This will be useful in the future.

A session by @cuxdu on creative problem solving, reminded me of a process that I’d forgotten about, which this time pointed out to me that I can bring more games into the classroom if I change the location of my class now that I know how many attend. There is still the four weeks after the Easter break where I can try out different games if we have tables instead of a lecture theatre.

A session by @olaflewitz and @zucherart on real options was great to remind me that this needs to be discussed more in classes, as plans change, and we have different choices at different junctures, until we commit to one specific action, and until then everything is ‘an option’.

A session by @IlIlIIlIlIlIlII where we played a lean workflow game developed by @vanschoo went well and is another one I’d like to bring into class too as it too shows how you need to change the system to improve results, and this means reflecting on what the system is currently.

The Lego StrategicPlay retrospective session by @p_roessler was a useful reminder of how these sessions are run by others, and to see what variations work, and what can be done to keep the session short, and how varied they can be with just a fiddle pack to use for Lego bricks.

The session by @jacquiello on minimalist games using what’s in your pockets was wonderful in reminding us that it’s not always about the equipment of the game, but what the players bring with them in attitude and openmindedness. This too could be an interesting game to try with students to see what happens with simple rules.

I didn’t get to the ‘5 minute games’ session, but was inspired by it to think of ways to use simple, ‘no equipment needed’ type of games in my lectures and found some to work with amongst the game books I have. I thought they went well, and the students liked them too I found out later, and understood the points the game made in the class.

Play in the classroom is good and should be in all classes if possible. Play can illustrate a point more effectively than a lecture on its own as students experience the issue themselves, and through their emotional involvement, plus physical activity during the play make a better bond with the concept too. All of this is to the good.

At this conference learning is happening all of the time and games are played ad-hoc in the bar until the small hours of the day, and even over meals too. The games in the bar were for fun (werewolf, flux, and fiasco), while other games were prototyped some more. Lots of talking and catching up with friends also happened, and it wasn’t just the young folks who staying in the bar all night either. For some of us, little sleep is a fine price to pay for talking with friends discussing ideas, and sharing stories and learning all of the time.

The beauty of Play4Agile is that it provides a wonderful space for the participants where they feel safe, and well looked after so that we can try new things and know that if we fail, it’s ok. It’s a ‘learning opportunity’ as was often said during the weekend. The organisers provided space ‘for the magic’ as shown in this drawing by @p_roessler in his session on gamifying.

where the magic happens

where the magic happens

One of the most memorable and fun sessions that came out of the Friday pre-conference session from @teamfuture17 and ??? was the ‘blindfolded snowball fight‘ at Sunday lunchtime. This was fun to think about and to play. A good way to change pace for the weekend and take a break.

Yes, this is possibly the one conference I look forward to the most each year, and it is a lot of fun, but it is also the one I think I learn the most at. Maybe it’s because it’s full of wonderful people, who are great fun to be with, but also it’s because you never know what will happen, and what you’ll learn. It’s also over all too soon usually, and you then realise that you didn’t speak to this person, and that person, which you meant to do too. Bother. I guess that’s what Skype and Twitter is for and I’ll need to catch up with those people that way.

Last year, P4A for me was more about ‘what being agile’ means, and ‘what possibilities’ are there for each of us. This year my take away message seems to be, to remember what you’ve done before as a few sessions reminded me of what I had forgotten, while the other message was about ‘what can be done now, with what you have to hand’. I look forward to next year already. In the meantime, watch the blindfolded snowball fight we had.

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